President Donald J. Trump’s top objectives at the May 25 NATO Leaders Meeting in Brussels will include reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the transatlantic bond and the Article 5 principle of collective defense, more equitable investment in NATO and its capabilities, and increasing Alliance contributions to the fight against terrorism.
NATO is both a political and military alliance. It works not only to safeguard freedom and democracy but also to promote security. Since 1949, when NATO was founded, the Allies have stood united “for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.” An attack on one remains an attack on all.
The Alliance has grown and prospered and soon will welcome a 29th ally, Montenegro.
But NATO needs strengthened capabilities to address the evolving security environment in Europe and support the fight against terrorism. It relies on Allies to fulfill their defense commitments to maintain the strength and security of the Alliance.
In Brussels, President Trump “will reaffirm America’s commitment to the Alliance while stressing the need for members to pay their fair share, to shoulder responsibility, to share burdens and … continue on the path of strengthening the Alliance,” said White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
NATO has stationed four battalion-sized battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. They signal NATO’s resolve to guard the Alliance’s eastern front.
A defense investment commitment
After the Cold War ended and regional tensions lessened, many Allies reduced national defense spending. As the security environment later changed, NATO took steps to increase defense investment to meet these challenges. At the 2006 NATO meeting, in Riga, Latvia, Allies committed to invest 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. Following Russian aggression in Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea, Allies renewed this pledge at the 2014 meeting in Wales and added that 20 percent of overall defense investment should be allocated to major equipment purchases, including related research and development.
Today only five countries invest 2 percent in defense — Estonia, Greece, Poland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Romania, Latvia, and Lithuania are on track to do so by the end of 2018.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in April that President Trump’s insistence on Allies paying their fair share had an almost immediate impact, with Allies’ defense spending rising in 2016. “We have now turned a corner,” Stoltenberg said.
In the fight against terrorism, NATO provides air-surveillance support and provides training to Iraqi security services. In Brussels, leaders will decide if NATO will formally join the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, which marshals the strength of 68 nations (including individual NATO Allies) and organizations.
NATO remains the bedrock of transatlantic security. The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington research organization, says, “History shows that European and U.S. paths are intertwined — that the United States cannot sit out Europe’s wars and that Europeans see U.S. security as their own.”